From political exile to founder of the Foreign Legion
When Louis XVIII was restored to the throne, even Soult’s political skills couldn’t save him from exile. But after four years in Germany, he was allowed to return to France where Louis XVIII restored him to the rank of marshal. Charles X awarded him a peerage and Louis-Philippe made him minister of war. As part of his plans to expand the army, Soult created the Foreign Legion in 1831. By this time, he had also begun a construction project in his home town. His wife’s maiden name was Berg, and their new home became the Château de Soult-Berg. It was completed in 1835.
Queen Victoria’s coronation
In 1838, Louis-Philippe chose Soult to be his representative at the coronation of Queen Victoria in London. As far as I can determine, Soult and Wellington never met face-to-face during all the years they spent fighting each other in Portugal, Spain, France and Belgium. But according to the tale I was told during my visit to Soult-Berg, this long-overdue encounter took place at the time of the coronation. Supposedly, while Soult was at a banquet, Wellington crept up behind him, grabbed his shoulders and cried, ‘I’ve got him, by damme; I’ve found you at last, Marshal Soult!’ And the next day, the two men rode around London in a carriage admiring the sights and receiving rapturous applause.
I had always doubted this story until I came across a piece in the 3 July 1838 edition of the French daily newspaper La Quotidienne, written by its London correspondent two days after the coronation.
Although there is no mention of the two former foes taking a carriage ride together, the idea of Soult receiving rapturous applause from the public is believable. According to Nicole Gotteri’s authoritative and monumental biography of Soult, this visit to London was among the highlights of Soult’s career, one of his most glorious campaigns. At the age of 69, a man who had spent so many years fighting the British was treated like a hero, received too many invitations to accept, visited the main sights in London, made trips to Windsor, Liverpool and Manchester, and hosted a ball in his ambassadorial residence where 1,000 high-society guests danced until five in the morning.
The Château de Soult-Berg
When Soult returned to France after this triumphal visit, Louis-Philippe appointed him foreign minister. Soon after, he added the role of prime minister, and at various times during the next seven years he also held the post of war minister. In 1847, Soult retired from politics and returned to his home at the Château de Soult-Berg. One of his first acts was to order the construction of a grand mausoleum attached to the parish church. On 26 November 1851 he died at home and was buried in this neo-classical tomb where the highlights of his career as a soldier and a politician are engraved in white marble. Shortly before the day of Soult's funeral, the town honoured its most famous son by changing its name to Saint-Amans-Soult. It lies ten kilometres east of Mazamet, in the department of the Tarn and in the shadow of the Montagne Noire.
Note: all photographs of painted portraits were taken inside the Château de Soult-Berg.